Travel Diaries: Kasol (Himachal Pradesh, India)

As the bus trudged along the scenic yet treacherous roads, there is nothing one can do but hold their breath and watch agog the scenery that unfolds. There is little you can do but pray that you do not fall in the ‘gahari khaai’ (abyss).

But finally you reach your destination. Israel, that’s the first word that comes to mind. the faces, the writing. You feel alien in your own land. And it is not over exaggeration, they even have a Chabad house, in a town that finishes in 10 minutes.  A small village (did I mention it gets over in 10 minutes) in a far away land, reachable only by road. How did it get so popular?

One of the main reasons it being in the hippie trail. People use Kasol as the base for further travels to Tosh, Rasol, Malana and other villages in the vicinity. But it is not saying that Kasol is just a transit village. It is a draw in itself.  Look beyond the Marijuana and you have a sleepy Himachali village/ town that has adapted itself to modern life and a far global outlook than any of us.

They realised early on that the foreign visitors to their town need that bit extra and thus was born the Hippie heaven of Himachal. As far as your eyes take you, you will find more international tourists than Indian, it can be a blessing in disguise. While the Israelis, who form a major chunk of the incoming tourists, keep to themselves; sometimes bordering on anti-social, it helps. You have solitude, no eyes follow you around, none prying. It is not that there are not enough prying eyes, but most of become sober in the shadows of the majestic mountains.

Little guesthouses and cafes dot the landscape. Psychedelia and paraphernalia are sold by the street. This is a town for the travellers. You do not come to know what the locals do apart from running guesthouses, food and stuff. You hardly see the other side. But you do guess, that they may be farmers, manufacturers or service providers. The blanket is drawn tightly over their personal life. Maybe that is in Kasol – the village. What we get to see is Kasol – the town. Not to say that it is not a piece of heaven. Imagine the middle of summer, when you have just sweated it out in Delhi. The cold wind and heavy rains are a welcome change in May.  The gushing water of Parvati River and the majestic Himalayas form the background. The beauty of Kasol lies in its sleepiness. Of the time you spend there, it would be spent in watching the vistas and eating in one of the many cafes; and if you want, in smoking some pot. Known for its psychedelic trance raves, you can decide to go under and listen to the gorgeous strains of the local Himachali songs you would not be hearing otherwise. So layered is the town that while you see young children around, you do not see the school they go to, nor do you see the hospital, the prescription of which is accepted by the local medical shop. It was one of the many mysteries that remained unsolved during my time there. There was an invisible line, a Lakshman Rekha that one could not cross. The people were friendly, but yet not so much that they will share their life story with you.

But there is a marked difference once you move a little away from the main city. Travelling to Tosh was  an amazing example. Not only were the locals extremely friendly, even the tourists, including the much infamous for their aloofness Israelis. One can only wonder what could be the reason for this stark difference in their attitude. Is there something in the air or maybe the water that makes them less friendly.  Where the smile has been replaced with apprehensions. Could it be us, have we made ourselves so unwated, so despised that we  cannot look at ourselves without disgust.

Coming  back to the village, the small village has everything you would need. Innumerable guesthouses and hotels, Cafes that can beat any establishment in a big city and even a Chabad house. Much safer than a lot of cities, I felt at home among the pine trees. I would like to reiterate that Kasol should be kept as a base for travelling around Parvati Valley.  From Kasol you can do Malana, Tosh, Kheerganga and even Manikaran. Tosh and Kheerganga need an overnight which can be managed as these places are extremely cheap when it comes to stay. We managed a place in 300!! You wouldn’t even get a decent meal in that much in a city like Mumbai.  As a village onto itself, one can spend two days maximum. It is enough to laze around in most of the cafes, by the river, take a half day trip to Chalal (which I did not like much) and basically just relax. Then the time comes to move on and all that remains are fond memories of a place that made you think about yourself and the world around you.

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